Thursday, 29 December 2011

More Music - for Advent - in the Topsham Art Room Chris Caldwell, Susie Hodder-Williams, Emma Welton 8A The Strand, Topsham, Friday 9 December

Chris Caldwell with his mighty Henri Selmer bass clarinet
Topsham Art Room
'Music on the Edge' were last seen at Deborah Wood's new Topsham Art Room on Sunday 28th August (details). A glorious mix of Bach, Villa-Lobos and the very modern music of Stephen Goss, played on clarinet, flute and saxophone. After that concert those two great musicians, Chris Caldwell and Susie Hodder-Williams set off on a tour of Canada and the USA. After playing the '345' gallery in Toronto, in New York and in New Orleans, 'Music on the Edge' played Dominique and John de Menil's 'Rothko Chapel'. The setting must have been perfect - surrounded by great works of art created by Mark Rothko. What a concert that must have been!

Susie Hodder-Williams plays flute
What better venue for a concert on their return to England than the Topsham Art Room. To complement an eclectic new collection 'Five', including work by five artists working in the South West, Chris and Susie joined forces with a familiar local violinist - Emma Welton. Emma was recently seen at the Bikeshed Theatre in Exeter, adding her performance of James Tenny's 'Koan' to an exciting programme of music by Gabriel Prokofiev and Exeter composing prodigy Michael Brailey (details).

A new sound -  Emma Welton plays violin

The concert started with the natural choice - Johann Sebastian Bach. 'Haste ye Shepherds' from the 'Christmas Oratorio' and 'Sheep May Safely Graze' from the 'Hunt Cantata'. Chris always maintains that Bach would have embraced the saxophone in his music if it had been invented earlier. To demonstrate, he played an arrangement of 'Haste ye Shepherds' for Bass saxophone.

Bass saxophone!
Beautiful - and beautifully echoed by Susie on the flute.
More flute
And for 'Sheep May Safely Graze', something very special - double bass

Double Bass!!
- and soprano saxophone - the perfect continuo. The clever counterpoint of the soprano saxophone and flute harmonised beautifully with the very deep double bass. A gorgeous sound.

Soprano saxophone
After that surprising and impressive start, the wonders continued with carols for advent. First was based on Alice Parker's arrangement of the Catelan Carol 'Fum Fum Fum' ('Smoke Smoke Smoke') the rhythm indicating the puffs of smoke from a cottage chimney - or the rocking of a cradle. "A vinticinc de desembre (fum fum fum) Ha nascut un minyonet" ("On the twenty fifth of December, a child was born"). The sound was very moorish with complex clarinet trills, the flute and violin keeping up a subtle whispering conversation.

For the fifteenth century English carol 'Nowell Syng We', Chris played finger bells gently while Susie and Emma played a simple flute and violin duet - based perhaps on Susan Nelson's 1953 recorder quartet arrangement, and very beautiful.

The thirteenth century carol 'Make we Merry, Both More and Less, For now is the Time of Christmas' from Edith Rickert's 1914 Ancient English Christmas Carols collection, introduced the jolly sound of a new instrument - the 'C' soprano clarinet. One tone higher than the standard soprano, the 'C' has a delightfully bright tone - especially in the hands of clarinet virtuoso Chris Caldwell.

Up the scale with the 'C' clarinet
One last carol - from fourteenth century France - was Pete Massie's working of 'Laudemus sum Armonia', prepared for his 'Stairwell Carollers' in 1977. A great Canadian musician, Pete's music is familiar on CBC radio, and 'Laudemus' has been performed by the Amadeus Choir in Toronto. An impressive heritage. Chris took things further - introducing the soprano saxophone. His arrangement was very complex and sheet music was needed - but what fun!

Chris took a little time after the carols to introduce the new 'Music on the Edge' string section. Emma Welton is already well known for her work with 'Icebreaker', playing electric violin with James Poke and John Godfrey, in their 'totalist' repertoire, including Philip Glass's 'Music with Changing Parts'. Chris, familiar with the repertoire, from his work with the Delta Saxophone Quartet, was eager to give Emma a trial run when he and Susie returned from America. As soon as they heard Emma's playing - and joined in - a new trio was born.

By the way - those 'Minimal Tendencies' recordings by the Delta Saxophone Quartet are available on CD - and much more besides, from 'Music on the Edge' (link).

Just to show the wonderful potential of this new ensemble, Chris, Susie and Emma had prepared something really special. A classical masterpiece. Haydn's London Trio No 1. This was originally scored for two flutes and 'cello. Emma took on the second flute part ably, but what about the 'cello part? Cue Chris with his bass saxophone, brilliantly injecting the lowest notes. The 'cello cadenza on saxophone was outstanding, and the final booming bass note serene. The 'London Trio' was extremely well received in Topsham's Art Room!

higher - the piccolo!
Just to get us back in the festive mood, Chris had prepared a 'Christmas Cracker'. Could the audience recognise the Christmas carols in Chris's medley arrangement? Chris started by beating out an insistent rhythm on the keys of his bass clarinet - which Emma joined in by striking ricochet strokes with her bow on the strings of her double bass. As the tune started to become apparent Susie brought in the melody softly and perfectly on the piccolo flute. It was unmistakeably 'Carol of the Drum', written in 1941 by Katherine Kennicott Davis and recorded in 1955 by the Trapp Family Singers. (Yes. The family that later featured in 'The Sound of Music'.) We know it now as 'The Little Drummer Boy' - pah rum pah pum pum! As the driving rhythm finally died away Susie lifted her regular flute slowly and deliberately. As she slowly built a single note and harmonics in classic 'Music on the Edge' style a single note sounded on Chris's bass clarinet. Emma played very slow notes on the top string of the double bass. The tune - could it possibly be . . . ? As Susie and Emma developed their melody it became clearer and clearer - 'God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen' an early nineteenth century classic. Susie played a perfect solo to the insistent rumble of Emma's double bass - that's new! With very appropriate crash, Emma put her double bass to one side and took up her violin. Chris also switched - to soprano saxophone - and, in a new higher register the tune changes to Howard Blake's "Walking in the Air" (written for the 1982 animation of Raymond Briggs' 'The Snowman' - and sung by Peter Auty, by the way; Aled Jones was the soloist for the hit single.) What a sweet seductive sound!

highest - harmonics on the double bass
From one devastatingly beautiful tune to another. A baroque masterpiece. Henry Purcell's 'Dido and Aeneas'. As with all their music, the trio introduced something really special. In 'Oft she visits this lov'd mountain' Emma accompanied Chris's soprano saxophone and Susie's flute with incredible harmonics on the double bass, interspersed with pizzicato chords - new and very wonderful! Chris and Susie built some glorious discordant harmonies (if that's not a contradiction in terms) before Chris seemed to drop out and leave Susie and Emma to play a duet. Having carefully replaced his soprano on its stand, however, Chris took up the bass clarinet to provide his own continuo to Susie's melody. Emma added an extra melody line on the double bass, ending with the very lowest notes on the instrument. A masterpiece!

A brilliant, brilliant performance!
The audience were utterly spellbound - and hoping there might be just one more piece. The trio had prepared a special encore (which Chris assured them they would all recognise). They certainly did. It was 'Silent Night' for flute, violin and bass clarinet. Softly breathed and sweetly familiar, the clarinet descended to its very lowest B flat - a great arrangement using the instruments to their full potential.

A fantastic concert - and just what everyone has come to expect from the wonderful 'Music on the Edge'. What next for Chris and Susie? - They're going on a trip to the Ukraine! 'Music on the Edge will be at the seventeenth 'Two Days & Two Nights' annual international music and arts festival in Odessa on the weekend of 23rd - 25th April 2012 (details).

Music in the Art Room continues in February next year. On Saturday 4th February, Deborah Woods will be opening an exhibition of paintings and Sculptures by Roger and Margaret Dean. (Open Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays from 11am to 5pm.) The exhibition runs until Sunday 4th March. To accompany this exhibition there will be 'Music in the Art Room' on Sunday 19th February. Guitar duo Alex Knight and Chris Glassfield will give a very special recital of music for two Spanish Guitars.

International guitarist and composer
Chris Glassfield
Devon-based Alex Knight
has been working as a professional soloist
and accompanist for many years
performing classical, Spanish, baroque
and renaissance music

Chris and Alex have a touring duo for 6 years

Music in the Art Room
Topsham Art Room, 8A The Strand
Sunday 19 February ?6pm
Alex Knight and Chris Glassfield
Vivaldi: Concerto in D major
Bach: Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring
Chopin: Waltz in A minor
Pachelbel: Canon in D
Zequina de Abreu: Tico Tico
Kosaku Yamadaso: Akatombo
Tickets: details to follow

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